Photo: Joe Skibinski/Penske Entertainment

McLaughlin on Pole at Barber as Team Penske Sweeps Front Row

By David Morgan, Associate Editor

BIRMINGHAM, Ala. – Scott McLaughlin is a man on a mission.

Coming into the weekend at Barber Motorsports Park, the driver of the No. 3 Team Penske Chevrolet has nowhere to go but up, with only five points to his name after a disqualification in St. Petersburg and a mechanical issue in Long Beach that has him all the way down at the bottom of the cellar in the point standings in 29th — last among any driver that has started a race in 2024.

With all of the noise surrounding the penalties from the season opener, McLaughlin wanted nothing more than to put all of that behind him and climb behind the wheel of his race car and get down to business.

“The best part for me is getting back in a race car and driving that thing as fast as I can. So, I’m very excited to get back in that car,” McLaughlin said on Friday before on-track action began.

Since the first laps have been turned, the defending winner at Barber has picked right back up where he left off a year ago, finishing first practice in ninth and second practice in third before it was go fast time in qualifying.

McLaughlin was fastest in his group in the first round and third quick in the Fast 12 to move to the final round with a shot at the pole.

The master of qualifying, fellow Team Penske driver Will Power, held the top spot with less than a minute left in the qualifying when McLaughlin started his flyer.

Flirting with the pole for the majority of his lap, McLaughlin went full send through the last complex of corners on the 17 turn, 2.3-mile road course, moving into the green at the last moment, eclipsing Power for the top spot to secure his first pole of the season and first since Nashville last August.

“The Good Ranchers Chevy has been so good today. I just wanted to give these guys and girls on the team an opportunity to be back on the front row and be back on pole,” McLaughlin said. “It’s been tough the last couple of races. We just haven’t hit it in qualifying. I’m super proud of that and super proud of the execution today.

“Obviously, this means a lot, but we’ve just got to keep focusing like this for the rest of the season and keep working hard.

“I sent it pretty hard through the last couple of corners. Anytime you get a chance to get a Team Penske front row, that’s the main thing and a great objective for the team. I’m really proud of everyone.”

Meanwhile, Power would have to settle for just missing out of the pole for the second week in a row, having gone through this same ordeal in Long Beach, when Felix Rosenqvist overtook him for the pole there.

“I’ve said it all year, we’re going to be quick everywhere,” Power said after his near-miss for the pole. “We’ve got great cars, great engines. I’m not surprised. It was obviously a pretty rough week for everyone on the team. Pretty disappointing, but we moved forward quickly.

“There’s always a little bit of this and that, but we’re hitting at such high levels right now – everyone is – that it’s just a matter of tiny bits here and there. There’s no one big mistake ever, otherwise you simply don’t make it through.

“I keep missing out by the tiniest of margins, whether it’s to transfer to the Fast Six or the last two weeks for pole, but at least we’re there, man. I’m really happy to be in the Fast Six to be fighting for a pole.

“It’ll come. If we keep knocking on the door, it’ll come. Same with a win. I’m so determined to get a bloody win. It’s been so long. Fighting hard.”

Christian Lundgaard posted his best start of the season with a monster lap to get into the Fast Six and backing it up in the final round to roll off from third, with Pato O’Ward starting alongside in fourth.

The fifth place starting position went to Felix Rosenqvist along with Marcus Armstrong rounding out the drivers that made it into the final round.

Graham Rahal and Josef Newgarden just missed out on transferring into the Fast Six, securing starts in seventh and eighth place. The remainder of the top-10 starters will be Kyle Kirkwood and defending series champion Alex Palou.

The 27-car field will have a short half-hour warm-up session on Sunday morning at 10:15 am ET, leading into the 90 lap main event at 1:30 pm ET on NBC and Peacock. 

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David Morgan is the Associate Editor for Motorsports Tribune. A 2008 graduate from the University of Mississippi, David has followed NASCAR since the early 90’s and became hooked at an early age after attending his first race at Talladega Superspeedway in 1993. He has traveled across the country since 2012 to cover some of the most prestigious events both IndyCar and NASCAR have to offer, with an aim to only expand on that in the near future.